man001034. Roosevelt Fitzgerald Professional Papers, 1890-1996. MS-01082. Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada. http://n2t.net/ark:/62930/d1hx19505
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DAYS GONE BY BY ROOSEVELT FITZGERALD
There's more to such shows as National Geographic, Wild Kingdom, Survival and others than what meets the eye. When I watch them, invariably, there is some scene which brings to mind something of the human experience. There seems to be some connections which transcends all species and illustrates a sameness, with many things, that are not isolated from one group to the other.
I imagine a part of that which makes being a human being so amazing is the ability to see similarities throughout all of nature and to reflect on what makes those differences different and what makes them the same. Still, not withstanding those memory prompters which certain television shows provide us, there are other phenomena which brings on a nostalgia and, when they are powerful enough, they teleport us back to another time and place.
A few nights ago I stood in the darkness of my patio and gazed at the moon for the longest time. Standing there and looking up, I experienced an almost imperceptible degree of dizziness. I closed my eyes and the swaying that I felt seemed to grow and I was certain that I would fall. Maybe I did. Maybe rather than falling down I fell through a time funnel similar to that through which Dorothy fell on her way to Oz.
I did not end up on the yellow brick road. There was no Tin Man and all the others. During my fall I detoured at the Arkansas River at Pawnee Rock, Kansas on through Great Bend and down into Oklahoma where I skirted Muskogee where I barely missed a country/western singer who makes a business of capitalizing on patriotism and on past the Sallisaw country where the Joads lived before they were driven off the place during the dust bowl days and right on into Fort Smith, Arkansas which, for years had been the jumping off point, a century and a half ago or so, for adventurers going into the west and then there was Lake Dardanelle and on and on and on until the Arkansas empied into the Mississippi just across from the Mississippi delta
town of Rosedale which is right at 100 miles south of the turnoff to Lake Arkabutla which is halfway between Tunica and Hernando deep in the heart of the Mississippi delta where cotton was once king and black people its servants.
When the "peculiar institution" dominated that region as recently as the midway point of the last century, the first weeks of the Fall of the year was characterized by harvesting and slaughtering. The crops were brought out of the fields, ginned and shipped down the streams and rivers to the ports. As the weather became cooler the season for fresh meat was there.
Underneath that garnet sky which comes before the time when the sun crests the eastern horizon, while the fog is still hanging in the air and the dew is heavy and all about, the place became alive with activity as preparations were gotten underway for the day of slaughtering. That day had not changed much in all the years between the time of slavery and the rollicking days of my boyhood. It might've been the same. My parents, uncles, grandparents, aunts, cousins, nephews and nieces and first and second and third cousins were all there. The animals to be slaughtered were all fenced and there was a gaity and a melancholy in the air. I didn't, at the time, quite understand why. Even now, though I well understand it, I cannot explain it. It was a day set apart from all other days and there was a look as of another world about.
The men, those who were young but older, took charge of the actual slaughtering. The older men, those sixty and seventy or so, gave the directions and everything was done as it had been done for generations. There were huge black iron cauldrons for cooking those parts that needed cooking in order to get the oil and the cracklings. The initial butchering was done by yet other men and the finer dressing of the cuts of meat was done by the women. Some of the women were busy making breakfast and the boys cut wood and the smaller children carried it and collected kindling. Several of the
men were out hunting--birds, squirrels, rabbits and other small game. Some fished. Sweet potatoes were washed--some to be used for pies and others to fry and bake and boil and whatnot. Ashes were carried out and the smoke house made ready for the hams and bacon.
Everyone had a job and everyone did it. All the while there were running conversations. The director of all the activity was my grandfather--not the grandfather that I always speak of but another. I really don't know how he was my grandfather or who's father he actually was. He was an old, old man and everybody called him "grandpa." He might not have even been related but was someone who needed to belong to somebody and he belonged to us. I never got the feeling that anyone ever gave him the feeling that he was not connected or important. He was the general. He gave directions and when we did not know how to carry them out, he showed us. He knew a lot for a man who had so 1ittle.
Right at eight o' clock or so, breakfast would be ready. Such breakfasts don't exist anymore. We ate by the pound--not by the calorie and we ate all sorts of stuff. Biscuits, bacon, sausage, eggs scrambled with hog brains, grits and gravy and clabbered milk.There were real flap jacks, blackstrap molasses, fig preserves. And then it was time to get back to work.
On through the morning and through the afternoon the slaughtering and the butchering and the cooking and the talking would go on. Sometime along the way the children would take naps and the grownups would take a break and have a few drinks of moonshine.] After the respite and before the work was resumed we would have huge slices of three layered cakes with jelly fillings and more country milk. Subsequently, the line to the two seater out back would be long and constant.
By first dark, all of the slaughtering and butchering would be done. Cracklings continued to cook and supper would be had. Cornbread, baked birds,
squirrels, rabbits, possums, fried fish, yams, red beans and country peas, the last of the mustard and the first of the collards, country coffee and shuck tea. There were many other things but I cannot remember them al 1 — that is, I cannot remember their names but I remember their sights and their tastes. Afterwards we'd sit out on the porch on the steps and bannisters, in the yard around the several fires under the large pots and scattered all about but close enough to all be within sight of each other and able to hear each other. Such conversations. There were no radios or televisions just the adventures of our own history.
I was only a child but when I heard my relatives speak of my ancestors with such reverence, I felt like the biggest bear in the woods and as M.C. Hammer was saying just the other day; "You can't top that."